Atrocity Exhibition, the day-old Danny Brown album curiously named after the old Joy Division song which is named after the older J.G. Ballard novel, is a truer reflection of Danny Dewan Sewell the human being, and by virtue Danny Brown the rapper, than any we’ve seen so far.
On the sleazy trash jangling opener ‘Downward Spiral’ Danny stirs from his familiar drug-induced delirium over wonky slide-guitar, with bubbling synth droplets rising around his wired, deep-set vocals – almost anachronistically picking up the narrative where XXX’s ‘30’ left it. The alien sobriety of the tone, timbre, and rhythm of Danny’s delivery on the follow-up ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ is such that he’s able to hide on his own tracks, in the listener’s ignorance, and challenge what we presume to know about him.
Danny oscillates between his sober and inebriated voices throughout, but the sensitivity of sobriety inevitably yearns for the numbness of inebriation, and although troubling one-liners still make it through the subterranean bumping of ‘Ain’t It Funny’ and the thrashing of ‘Golddust’, by the time we reach ‘White Lines’ the dopamine has flooded Danny’s brain entirely.
Familiar though that dynamic is, this album is nothing if not uncompromising; whereas Danny might have dropped himself into the communal rap landscape with Old, Atrocity Exhibition drops you into his private one. Whenever he suspects he’s nearing too much of a trope he takes a left and warps our expectation.
All any one track can tell you about this album for sure is that the remaining fourteen are nothing like it. Fans awaiting another ‘Dip’ or ‘Kush Coma’ will still be able to extract that same raw energy from this; it’ll just take a bit of recalibration.
In a sense, this jarring quality is what Atrocity Exhibition is for. It’s about the disparity between how we see Danny vs. how he really is, and what that means for his art and sense of identity. Some of the same apprehensions from XXX creep in – issues of isolation and self-doubt, as well as the fallacy of success as fulfilment most notably discussed on tracks like ‘Lost’ (an album highlight), ‘Rolling Stone’, and again alluded to within the 1-2 punch of ‘Ain’t It Funny’ and ‘Golddust’ - the latter of which samples the original Joy Division tune of the album’s namesake.
Crucially, Atrocity Exhibition is a fun and unpredictable album laced with subtly tragic realities. The exhibition of atrocity, it seems, is the live martyrdom of a human for our entertainment, and their inept reassembly by popular consciousness. Danny is bumping into the nature of celebrity here, finding himself suppressed by expectation, but ever smiling, he presents this album as the antidote.